iBeacon Hackathon: San Francisco Edition

Join us for an iBeacon hackathon in San Francisco on February 28 – March 2nd. The event is sponsored by our friends at BeMyApp, a company that specializes in developer-driven events and has a reputation for bringing creativity together with code in order to push the boundaries of what’s possible with emerging technologies.

I’m really thrilled to be a judge at the event and will be joining in live from our offices in Toronto for the final demos and evaluation.

Over the past few months we’ve seen iBeacon start to take hold in the imagination of developers. Starting from coupons in stores and beacon-based experiences at the Superbowl we’re now finding developers pushing the boundaries of what iBeacon makes possible.

While there are lots of tricks and tips related to the iBeacon framework itself the bigger challenge isn’t how to get your app to listen for, detect and react to Bluetooth LE powered beacons.

The bigger challenge is in the realization that you’re not just designing an experience for a device: you’re designing an experience for the physical world.

iBeacon Isn’t Always Simple

Even something as simple as pushing a welcome message to someone when they walk in the front door of your store needs to account for what “entry” really means:

  • There are different ‘states’ that an app can be in (on/off/background/foreground)
  • Even within one of these states there can be differences in response times based on how many apps a user is running, when they last used Bluetooth and other factors
  • Radio interference in a physical space can lead to differing response times

So what kind of message do you send? What happens if the customer is in the back of the store when your message welcoming them gets pushed?

The Real World is the Interface

But even more than the challenge of latency and response is the idea that the physical world is the interface – which can sometimes be a new paradigm for a mobile developer used to working within the confines of a ViewController.

But that’s where the power and creativity made possible by iBeacon comes in.

And what I expect to see out of the BeMyApp Hackathon is some amazing thinking that explores new types of physical space and what iBeacon can do to interactions within them.

Scenarios with iBeacon

Just think of some of the pain points and activities in a typical day and you’re off and running:

  • Waiting in line at a bus stop, a bank or your local coffee shop
  • Trying to find a sales associate at a clothing store
  • Hanging around your dentist’s office waiting for the ‘big chair’
  • Watching your kid’s soccer practice or hockey game
  • Taking your dog to the local park

I can imagine a dozen scenarios with iBeacon in these instances alone. Because beacons aren’t just for coupons. With them, you can:

  • Connect people to physical world services
  • Put them outside and create context-specific data for the outdoors
  • Create pop-up social networks only accessible to people close to the beacon

These examples also hint that when you mix beacons with data there’s some pretty cool stuff that can happen too. I’d be curious to see Hackathon projects that mash up beacons with, say, the San Francisco Open Data project. What would happen if you combined iBeacons with, say, the Film Locations database?

It will be really exciting to see what comes out of the Hackathon and if you’re in the San Francisco area please do register. And remember: Be The Beacon (TM).

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